Wednesday 18 August 2010

100 Days

What is the significance of 100 days? It is 2,400 hours. Or 3 months and 8 days. It's a meaningless period of time which has yet become, through history, a period to judge a new situation.

JFK said in his inauguration speech: "All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days; nor in the life of this administration. Nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” Perhaps the most sensible thing he ever said; policies - especially changes in policies - take much longer to implement than they do to describe.

So how has the Government done in its first 100 days? Pretty well, I think.

- the coalition has worked so far, proving doubters like myself wrong. I'm sure this is part personal chemistry and part developing firm "rules of engagement" between the parties right at the start. Both parties benefit from being in Government; the Tories benefit in two additional ways: they can be harsher with the budget than if they were on their own because they have cover from the LibDems, and their lunatic fringe cannot hold them to ransom as easily. The LibDems are suffering in the polls at the moment but I suspect they will benefit later as the economy improves.

- they have started to get to grip with the budget deficit. Amidst a lot of noise about "cuts" a limited number of commentators (John Redwood most concisely) have noted that Governmengt spending is not being cut at all, rather the rate of growth is being slowed a bit. But what they are doing is better than nothing, and better than the alternative, and as I noted in my previous post the country is benefitting from lower interest rates and from being given the time to manage things ourselves. Even if there is a double dip recession (not very likely), it's unlikely that reducing the scale of Government expenditure in the UK will be a major cause.

- they have started to get a grip on the absurdities of the last few years of Labour - dumping inefficient school funding programme, getting rid of public bodies paying external people to lobby other public bodies and so on. Everyone has a view on what the Big Society means: to me it means removing the attitude of public sector management that they have an entitlement to direct the public, rather than a duty to serve them. This is a massive cultural change and it wuill take time to implement. But you can sense the tide is about to turn.

- they made a great move in putting Ian Duncan Smith in charge of welfare reform, and (for reasons of getting support in implementation) complementing this with various Labour advisers. But this is one area where the jury is out: it is critical to take a long term view of welfare reform if the cycle of dependency in many parts of Britain is to be reversed. Improving education will not be enough. But welfare reform will costs money, which is why the issue has been blocked for many years. Cameron must ensure IDS can take a long term view.

- the approach to international affairs seems suitably pragmatic for a medium sized power: we should not expect or demand too much, but our history and culture - and armed forces - mean we have a lot to offer if we have the confidence to do so. They have so far not been waylaid by silly Euro-sceptic issues - the LibDems probably help here.

- I do worry about the NHS reforms that have been announced. I am sure the principle - of localisation and removing the Primary Care trusts - is very sensible, but surely the last thing the NHS needs is a lot of expensive further reform. This smacks of a bored minister looking to make a name for himself.

- given that the Government has started to do a lot, it is very refreshing that it is also fairly quiet. We do not have daily headlines about how wonderful they are. To me, that smacks of quiet competence, a focus on delivery not presentation and on letting people get on with their lives. Perhaps that is naively optimistic, but it is a good change.

The best thing for me, though, is to read the daily whinges of the quangocracy - people like the association of chief police officers, the UK Film Council and so on -who have drained so much energy and money from the country. They are suddenly realising they have to justify what they do. And most of the can't. These daily headlines are a joy to read.

So overall - a good start.

But to channel JFK: 100 days isn't very long. There's a long way to go.